The Loyal Friend

painting by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

painting by Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

I love books and reading… and I love collecting quotes. On a lazy Saturday morning where all you want to do is to sit down with a cup of coffee and read, some quotes about reading and books seems like just the thing.

Here are just a few of my favorites. I hope you find a few you like and maybe a few for your own collection.

Quotes on Books and Reading

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.  ~ Groucho Marx

There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.  ~ Marcel Proust

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.  ~ Thomas Jefferson

You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.  ~C.S. Lewis

You cannot open a book without learning something.  ~ Confucius

A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us. ~ Franz Kafka

‘Classic.’ A book which people praise and don’t read.  ~ Mark Twain

If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.  ~ Emily Dickinson

There is no friend as loyal as a book. ~ Ernest Hemingway

The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading in order to write. A man will turn over half a library to make a book.  ~ Samuel Johnson

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all. ~ Oscar Wilde

A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us. ~ W.H. Auden

A book worth reading is worth buying.  ~ John Ruskin

Poetry Review: “Digging” by Seamus Heaney

seamus-heaneyThe first  book of Seamus Heaney’s I ever purchased wasSweeney Astray at a used bookstore in Dinkytown, Minneapolis. That was in October 1986. Since then I have purchased and read many, many other books of his poetry and prose. I treasure each and every one.

By the time Heaney published Sweeny Astray in 1983, he had already written and published a number of volumes of poetry. On the day I purchased the book, a translation  of a medieval Irish work called Buile Suibhne, I was more familiar with the famous Irish  character of Mad Sweeney than I was of poet/translator Seamus Heaney. By the time I finished the book, I was a committed Heaney fan.

Those who are old enough to remember life before the internet, will remember that there was a time when finding information could be difficult, it was not as simple as just googling a name and sifting through hits.

In 1986, when I wanted to know more about this poet I had just “discovered,” and what other books he may have written, I had to go to the library at the University of Minnesota. I spent an entire weekend “researching” Heaney, taking notes in an old  composition book I used as a journal… and days combing the shelves of various used bookstores looking for his works. Almost 25 years later, out of habit I suppose, I still find myself looking for his works when I am at used bookstores, even though I think I have almost everything he has written.

Heaney was born in Northern Ireland. His best poetry centers around the places and faces of his childhood and youth. He is at his best when writing about those things. “Digging” is such a poem. It is also a wonderful poem about writing poetry.



Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pin rest; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Poetry Review: “A Ballad of the Mullberry Road” by Ezra Pound

Ezra-Pound-300x282Ezra Pound is famous for many things: the man who discovered T.S. Eliot; an influence on and supporter of the generation of writers known as “The Lost Generation;” an influential literary critic; a traitor to his country in World War II. Above all, though, Pound was a poet.

As a poet he was a lyricist, greatly influenced by a love of China and the many works and writers that he translated and introduced to a Western audience. The poem “A Ballad of the Mullberry Road” shows this Eastern influence quite well.

Pound is another poet whose reputation has diminished with time. I do not know why. Leafing through a volume of his poetry, I quickly lose count of the poems I would like to feature here… the many lines I have loved since I first read them decades ago….


A Ballad of the Mullberry Road

The sun rises in south east corner of things
To look on the tall house of the Shin
For they have a daughter named Rafu,
(pretty girl)
She made the name for herself: ‘Gauze Veil,’
For she feeds mulberries to silkworms.
She gets them by the south wall of the town.
With green strings she makes the warp of her basket,
She makes the shoulder-straps of her basket
from the boughs of Katsura,
And she piles her hair up on the left side of her headpiece.

Her earrings are made of pearl,
Her underskirt is of green pattern-silk,
Her overskirt is the same silk dyed in purple,
And when men going by look on Rafu
They set down their burdens,
They stand and twirl their moustaches.

Poetry Review: “The Clod and the Pebble” by William Blake

"Creator" by William Blake

“Creator” by William Blake

Thanksgiving is past. It is the first Sunday in Advent. The themes for today’s readings are light and hope. William Blake seems appropriate somehow.

“The Clod and Pebble” is one of Blake’s more familiar poems. It also happens to be one of my daughter Dylan’s favorites. And one of mine. She first read the poem in a high school English class. Most recently, however, she read it again from a little volume of Blake that I picked up in a used bookstore in the French Quarter in New Orleans in 1985.

I remember where I picked up a number of the books I own and love: Yeat’s Autobiographies in a little bookstore in Boston near the Boston Commons; One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in a store in downtown Spokane, Washington; Auden’s Selected Poems in Hyde Park, Chicago, on a shelf just above and to the left of the complimentary hot water and tea bags table…. The list goes on. Books as souvenir, reminders of places I have been… places where I have read.

I carried the little volume of Blake and the poem “The Clod and the Pebble” with me on a cross-country Greyhound Bus Pass excursion across the South and the Midwest and back to Montana. It reminds of that trip and a time long gone.

My daughter reads now out of the same volume. A gift from Blake to me… and now to her.

The Clod and the Pebble

“Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”

So sung a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet;
But a Pebble of the brook,
Warbled out these metres meet:

“Love seeketh only self to please,
To bind another to Its delight,
Joys in another’s loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”


Poetry Review: “Peace” by Patrick Kavanaugh

Patrick Kavanaugh

Patrick Kavanaugh

Irish poet Patrick Kavanaugh did not write many poems but what he did write was a great deal of very, very good ones… and a few great ones. He also wrote one of my favorite literary autobiographies, The Green Fool.

When I was in my mid-20s, I spent a few years reading primarily Irish literature. It began with the year and a half where I read almost nothing but W.B. Yeats, all his poetry and prose that I could get my hands on – including his entire collected poems cover to cover numerous times. Kavanaugh was the first poet I found when my “Yeats year” was done. For that reason he holds a special place in my memory and my bookcase.

For a number of years, Kavanaugh’ books were out of print. My old paperback version of his Collected Poems is falling apart, and the the pages so browned with age that my pencil-marked notes seem like I could simply blow them away. I am gratified to see that there is a Kindle version ofPatrick Kavanaugh’s Collected Poems now available as well as a new paperback edition. You could get either here.

There are a number of poems I could pick to showcase Kavanaugh. “Peace” seems as good as any. In it we see the essence of Kavanaugh’s best poetry: rural Irish landscape and themes, musicality, ordinary language and things made beautiful and eternal.


And sometimes I am sorry when the grass
Is growing over the stones in quiet hollows
And the cocksfoot leans across the rutted cart-pass
That I am not the voice of country fellows
Who now are standing by some headland talking
Of turnips and potatoes or young corn
Of turf banks stripped for victory.
Here Peace is still hawking
His coloured combs and scarves and beads of horn.

Upon a headland by a whinny hedge
A hare sits looking down a leaf-lapped furrow
There’s an old plough upside-down on a weedy ridge
And someone is shouldering home a saddle-harrow.
Out of that childhood country what fools climb
To fight with tyrants Love and Life and Time?

Poetry Review: “Poetry” by Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

Marianne Moore

If you approach Marianne Moore the same way as you approach most poets you will be quickly frustrated. Her poetry is more difficult, confounding, and requires more work than that of most poets, even other Modernists. She was a poetic experimenterencyclopedist, and iconoclast.

One of the things that make her difficult on the surface is that she eschewed traditional poetic form and meter, believing that the true essence of poetry lay not in such outward “traditionalities” (to coin a phrase) but in a precise and luminous delight in language.

Her most famous poem is “Poetry.” Here she makes her case for the kind of poetry she is longing to read and write,… and the the kind of poets she is longing for. She is also making the case for why poetry, this most frivolous of things, really can and does matter.

Moore like many poets constantly re-wrote and redacted her poems, especially late in her life. When you find a poem by her you like, you may also find many, many versions of it. Her famous poem “Poetry” is no exception.


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all
this fiddle.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
Hands that can grasp, eyes
that can dilate, hair that can rise
if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because
they are
useful. When they become so derivative as to become
the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
do not admire what
we cannot understand: the bat
holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf
a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that
feels a
flea, the base-
ball fan, the statistician–
nor is it valid
to discriminate against ‘business documents and

school-books’; all these phenomena are important. One must
make a distinction
however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the
result is not poetry,
nor till the poets among us can be
‘literalists of
the imagination’–above
insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, ‘imaginary gardens with real toads in them’, shall
we have
it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
the raw material of poetry in
all its rawness and
that which is on the other hand
genuine, you are interested in poetry.

Poetry Review: “Woods” by Wendell Berry

wendellberry-189x300On a cold November morning, I find myself dreaming already of spring. Winter used to seem merely a nuisance but as I have gotten older it has turned more and more into a cross… one I very reluctantly bear.

Wendell Berry’s small poem “Woods” seems like the perfect tonic on a day like today. Berry’s poetry at its best bears witness to the three part relationship between Creator and creation and creature.

On this cold Thanksgiving morning, a poem about spring, and God’s wonderful and “wild blessings’ seems like a natural fit. Enjoy!


I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.


Poetry Review: “Flying by Night” by Ted Kooser


Ted Kooser

One of the truisms of American poetry is that some of the most original poetry written in the 20th Century was written by non-professional poets. That is, poets who had their primary careers in fields other than writing or teaching writing. Unencumbered by more traditional poetic relationships and poetic responsibilities, poets like Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams were free to push poetry in more original directions.

People who spend a great deal of time together soon begin to think and talk the same. Students follow teachers and follow one another. Soon all are thinking, voting, and writing similarly. Originality is narrowed because experiences, expectations, and perspectives are narrowed – distilled ever down to ones that all in the group can ultimately live with.

The poet or artist working alone is a slightly more free from the webs of socially polite conformity that constrain originality or the sub-conscious group thought/speak that limits language direction. The poet working alone is free to follow any direction of their own making as far as it goes. Even, unfortunately, if it is the absolutely wrong direction. For that reason, the poet working alone may reach either greater heights or greater depths of creativity than any class-trained / writing-group poet.

Poet Ted Kooser, like Wallace Stevens spent most of his working life in the insurance business. His poetry is deceptively simple. The language and images spring from his rural Midwestern sensibility: farm houses and farm fields, yard sales, and towns that still proudly fly a flag and gather Friday nights for high school football games.

“Flying By Night” is one of dozens of great little poems that Kooser has written. In it we see what makes Kooser a great poet: simple words and images coming together to make something beautiful, multi-dimensional, and unforgetable.


Flying at Night

Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distant death,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds and barn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.

Poetry Review: Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

ozymandias-300x199While today Percy Bysshe Shelley is generally recognized as one of the shining lights of English poetry, during his own lifetime and for a generation after his death he was not so widely regarded. Most of this lack of appreciation was due to critics disliking his political and philosophical writings.

For early critics, his less “complicated” poems like “Ozymadias” alone were acknowledged and praised. His “rediscovery” at the end of the 19th Century and the end of the Victorian Period  by the Pre-Raphaelites reinvigorated poetry. His influence on Yeats is, of course, significant.

“Ozymandias” is a staple of English 101 classes. In form and content, it is a perfect poem – one easily memorized and gratefully recited. Its many ironic levels are easy to see, and strike a familiar and modern chord.



I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.